Sunday, March 31, 2019

because here I am home


I heard their strong bugle and watched as the sandhill cranes landed on the soggy earth; earth recently revealed after months of frozen slumber.  On graceful legs they moved in unison searching the ridges and crevices of the ground for sustenance. 

Above me, clouds moved swiftly like the birds, constant and unchanging in their flow. 

On a distant slope four deer emerged from the tree line and crossed the field together at soft angles until they disappeared behind more distant trees. 

Almost beyond sight the sandhills continued to troll the earth together. 

Rain began to fall, and I heard its drops land on the roof of my car and on the soft ground outside my open window, and I heard the calls of secluded songbirds sound between them. 

I backed my car from bare road onto the paved one, hoping to prevent my tires from becoming stuck in the increasing softness of the soft earth. 

And as I turned to pull away from the view that grew me whole again, seeing it recede in my rear view mirror I knew why the presence of nature, even as found in patchy sections of tilled up farmland has always been my equanimity. 

Because outside was safer than inside, because peace is knowing your place among everything else.  Because here, I am not wrong or right, I carry no judgement or praise, no failure or success, because nature balances nature.  Because here I am not the scale, but a weight in the balance of all things.

Because here I am me and I am nothing.  Because here I am home. 




With gratitude,
Joanna

Monday, February 25, 2019

I have long suspected...




I have long suspected that there is much more to see. 

Winter, my nemesis, hangs in the air and hardens the earth, it strips the trees and plays hide and seek with the sun. 

Winter, I count the days to your waning and my freedom.  But my scoffing has made me suspicious that you may possess a magic I am blind to see.  I have come to suspect it is possible that I am missing your wonder – blinded through my efforts to look beyond you.

I have worn the mask in your name.

I should venture into you, but I am uncomfortable.  I should venture outside of myself, but I am uncomfortable. 

I was given snowshoes in January.  For most of your season you have provided too much snow for me to use them, snow that fell on the wrong day of my week, frozen air rushing at its heels.  This week I answered your invitation.  I found myself in a park with a friend walking the banks of a river that I have not visited, even in the heat.  I was warm laboring across the frozen ground.  Everything around us was still.  We encountered only evidence that others had crossed before us, their tracks sealed in the crunchy white surface. 

Here it was.  Ice and water and wood and tan prairie grasses and no sound at all.  The magic I had come to wonder at. 

It was here after all, here, while I sat on the other side of closed windows, scolding.  A private world in plain sight that only those brave or insightful enough dare to see – the lucky ones.  I count myself lucky this week.  Put on shoes and go.



With gratitude,
Joanna

Thursday, December 20, 2018

travel sketches, crossing the country in a few lines a day, part 2






Preparing for the coming summer's travel always spurs me to look back on our past trips.  In such a mood I recently read my travel journals from the last two summers.  For the most part my daily entries were brief and sketchy, written at night after the kids were asleep or scrolled in shaky pen, an attempt to get down a few lines during our days drive.  I recall that many of these entries felt too simple at the time of their writing and likely of little future interest.  But I wrote them anyway.  And as I read them more than a year later I discovered that recollections in any form have the power to transport.  Many passages were more eloquent than I had thought them to be; and those that were simple were poignant too because of their honesty and immediacy. Eloquent or slight - all of them meaningful because of the memories they conjured.  Below are a few lines from each day of our travels during the summer of 2017: the lines that speak to me now because of or despite their eloquence.



Summer 2017


June 17, 2017 (Poplar Grove, Illinois to Des Moines, Iowa)

Today is the day we head west again.  This is the day I wait for, plan for –  breathe a sigh of relief for. 



June 18, 2017 (Des Moines to Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, Omaha, Nebraska)

It is our first night in the pop-up – it feels so comfortable, like an old shirt.  Everyone is tucked in and sleeping as I sit up and write.  It is wonderful when newness and familiarity merge.  It is a wonderful kind of homecoming, like a surprise in your own living room. 



June 19, 2017 (Omaha to FT. Kearney State Recreation Area, Kearney, Nebraska)

In Fort Kearney, Nebraska we visited the 1840s fort, the first built along the route of the Oregon Trail and was later the headquarters for the Pony Express.  Everything on the grounds is a reconstruction, a simple representation that clearly communicates what was once there.  The kids raced each other to the corners of the fort – this is history  with children.



June 20, 2017 (Fort Kearney to Scottsbluff National Monument, Nebraska)

Our drive today was through prairie land that gradually faded into an undulating landscape reminiscent of last year’s passage though South Dakota and Wyoming.  We arrived at Scottsbluff National Monument at around 2:30 in the afternoon.  The air was hot and dry.  We took the last shuttle of the day to the top of the Bluff on the 1930s CCC road and enjoyed our own ranger lead tour up the half-mile trail to the lookout point. 

 

June 21, 2017 (Scotts Bluff, Nebraska to Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado)

Today we reached the mountains.  Always, tears come to my eyes when I first enter the steep slopes.  Always they come again when I take in the smell of pine for the first time -  wet crisp pine or warm dry pine, they are equally distinct and equally they flush me with emotion. 

Tonight I sit up, as I often do, the only one awake taking in myself along with the rest of the day.  The wind, though it has calmed significantly, still blows against the soft sides of our camper, gently rocking and sometimes forcing the canvass inward.  Inside I hear only the sounds of breath heavy with sleep, and from the outside an occasional voice and a low and constant hum: a jet passes miles above us.  



June 22, 2017 (Rock Mountain National Park)

Our first morning in Rocky Mountain National Park found us on a ranger led nature walk in Moraine Park.  Afterward we stopped at a wayside on the Colorado River for a picnic lunch.  In the late afternoon we drove to Bear Lake.  We walked the mile long path around its shore and the kids delighted to run and climb and touch snow in June and throw bits of it into the lake. 



June 23, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

We spent today in Estes Park.  Coffee, candy, a playground at the edge of the river: there is nothing like the sound of rushing water, it flows directly through me.



June 24, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today we hiked Alberta Falls.



June 25, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today is Sunday and we spent our afternoon in Estes Park again.  I sat for an hour on a bolder at the edge of a playground: the jagged mountains before me, the rushing water behind me, my children playing in between.  This place feels comfortable, as if it is exactly as it should be, as if it invites us to be exactly as we should be.  These mountains are not a spectacle, they are their own wild place.



June 26, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today we drove Trail Ridge Road. At an elevation of 12,000 feet it climbs to be the highest road in the United States.  We spent three hours on the road, including our time at the visitor center and on the overlook trail.  The vistas are so broad and immense it is hard to comprehend them.  It is almost impossible to take in their distances and understand their vastness.  In the late afternoon Grace and I hiked the switchback trail to Bierstadt Lake.  This place was a serene and fulfilling as the road was raw and intimidating. It was a full day – as days should be, full to the limits of what we could do and take in – this is the reason for the experience, to fill us with understanding and wonder. 

June 27, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park)

Today is our last day in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Our seven days here have been wonderful, full of beauty and challenge and new experience.  Most of all they have brought us to the mountains. 




June 28, 2017 (Rocky Mountain National Park to Lander, Wyoming)

We pulled out of Glacier Basin campground at about ten o’clock this morning.  Our destination, one night in Lander, Wyoming on our way to Grand Teton National Park.  Crossing into Wyoming we entered Oregon Trail territory again.  As we drove I read aloud from the auto tour book.  We stopped at Split Rock and Ice Slew, both landmarks on the trail.  We parted from the trail just after Sweet Water Station and just to its north, entered an otherworldly expanse of geologic formations.   



June 29, 2017 (Lander to Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming)

We enjoyed our drive this morning.  We were out early, which is unusual for us.  But we reveled in the perfect morning encountering few others.  We drove through a landscape that surprised at every turn, constantly changing and yet consistent in its ability to awe.  We arrived at Grand Teton just before 10:00 am and achieved our goal of securing a first come first serve campsite inside the park. 



June 30, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park)

In mid afternoon we ventured to Jenny Lake and chose to walk the trail that leads past Moose Ponds.  To our delight we saw a Moose, our first in two years visiting this region.  He looked just as you would expect a moose to look, dark with a regal profile.  We watched him at a distance for sometime dipping his head in to graze in the water. He was oblivious to us; expect occasionally when he raised his head in clear recognition of some unknown sound.  And then he would go back, head to the water, raising and lowering, lowering and raising again, shifting slightly, but not stepping too far in any direction.



July 1, 2017(Grand Teton National Park)

We hiked to Inspiration Point: Jeffrey wants to move fast, Grace just wants to climb and Michael notices everything.  Dinner of sandwiches from the camp store and an early evening driving tour of the pull offs best known for wildlife viewing.  




July 2, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park)

Chapel of the Transfiguration

My pilgrimage was returning to the place where she had been.
For hundreds of miles it was on my mind and occasionally on my lips.
For more than a year it followed me:
 since I first learned of it, since I first visited.
Today I went for communion.
Today I went to join this place alive with human presence.
Today I carried raw anticipation in my heart.
Today I was overcome.



July 3, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park)

Jeff caught six trout in Jackson Lake.  We grilled three of them whole for dinner, drizzled with oil and draped and stuffed with lemon, they were beautiful.   But it was strange for the kids to see the whole fish dead and ready for eating.  It was interesting like that for me too, to consider my appreciation for a life that will feed my own.



July 4, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park)

Today is our last day in Grand Teton National Park.  The atmosphere is not festive as one would expect on this national holiday, but soft, almost quiet, they way I have wished the park would have been during the rest of our visit. 



July 5, 2017 (Grand Teton National Park to Casper, Wyoming)

For the first time in nearly three weeks we turned east.



July 6, 2017 (Casper to Hot Springs South Dakota)

We headed back toward the highway at just about six o’clock to be met by a dark storm on the horizon. We caught up with each other, us and the storm, a few hours later and what was planned as our first night in Custer State Park, South Dakota became the only night we have spent in a hotel in two years on the road.  


July 7, 2017 (Hot Springs to Custer State Park, Custer, South Dakota)

Prairie dog towns are abundant along the roadway that leads from Custer to Wind Cave National Park.  If you stop to near, the prairie dogs will call out in unison to pass along the signal of looming danger.  My son, the one who notices everything, loves them.



July 8, 2017 (Custer State Park)

In the afternoon we visited the cabin home of Badger Clark, onetime South Dakota poet laurite.  And we hiked about two miles round trip on the South Dakota Centennial Trail that passes just outside its doorway.



July 9, 2017 (Custer State Park)

I got up early this morning to prepare the last camp breakfast of our trip.  Camp breakfast is my favorite.



July 10, 2017 (Custer State Park to Sioux Falls, South Dakota)

Officially on our way home: today was a driving day and we took our time. We were through Rapid City by 3:00 and into the open plains.  The landscape had faded gradually from pine forested mountains to gentile hills to the bare rolling vistas of the badlands region.  I always feel a strong sense of remorse when the mountains have finally faded from our rearview.  And always I take in a deep breath of comfort as I realize I am fully surrounded by the plains once more. 



July 11, 2017 (Sioux Falls, South Dakota to home)

496 miles.






With gratitude,
Joanna



Travel sketches part 1, here


Friday, August 24, 2018

midwest wandering






I believe there are places in this world that possess inherent beauty regardless of our ability to see.  And it falls to us not to chide this world for her lack of beauty but to seek out our own eyes for seeing it. 

Near the end of his life the founder of the Appalachian Trail, Benton Mackay, was asked what had been the goal of his project, he answered simply this: 

To see. To walk. To see what you see.

He believed in movement not as an escape, but an immersion.

I cannot remember a time when I did not feel the urge to move.  It is in my bloodline.  I have to look back beyond five generations to find an ancestor who lived out her life in the place she was born.  They weren’t nomads, but seekers, following paths that promised better lives.  But also, I cannot recall a time when I was without the longing to settle deeply in a place I could call my own – for the rest of my life.  Thus the paradox I inherited, that I have lived, the reason for moving is always to find a better place to stay.

That paradox finds me here, in a place called the Midwest.  A place where I have come to identify with a region more than a town, where boundaries mean less than the spaces that cross them.  This is the land of wide vistas and immense skies.  And a place where what is familiar transcends what is not.  I had to earn that transcendence through the exercise of seeing. And from that pursuit emerged Midwest Wandering a collection of writings born out of my desire to “see what I see” to discover the beauty in places unknown to me.  Through this pursuit, and without quite realizing it, I began also to satisfy those urges to both move and stay.  Staying has taught me how to move with intention and how to see as I go - how to live in the space between the new and the known.      

Midwest Wandering, previously titled Favorite Finds Friday, is an ever growing collection of reflections on the places I am most enamored with, places that have taught me or inspired me, touched me with their beauty or the experience they offer; but re-framed based on the realization that what I desire to document is not necessarily a list of favorites, but a record of experience.



To see

To walk


To see what you see








I'd love for you to join me: 
Midwest Wandering



With gratitude,

Jo


{Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike  {muir}

Saturday, August 4, 2018

glory {crafted by the seasons}






This is summer her glory.  When I love the wind because it is only a strong breeze and when the low sunlight reveals the patterns in the green of the leaves and catches in the loose bark of the birch trees and the almost red of the tomatoes and everything glimmers together - when my yard is my sanctuary. 


Summer reveals paths into the unknown.  But it is when I come home that I feel its rhythm, its subtle changes, and the September wind that sneaks in to rustle July leaves.  Summer is not my favorite season, but it is the one I most desire to hold in my grasp.  It is the season when everything is fully alive, breathing in as much life as is possible.  And I wish to breathe in as much plump warm air as I am able; if I could only hold it in my lungs for exhale on that not distant enough day, a few months from now when this world will lay under a thick blanket of white.

But I know, as I must accept in every season of summer, that that is not the way of nature’s wisdom; her wisdom that reveals itself in subtle encounters that prompt our attention and feed our senses, and always she ushers us through the gateway that leads to the next season of glory. 

And so we begin again, picking up the rhythm in the place we find ourselves, in the place we allow ourselves to be found.  Maybe it is on a just warm enough summer evening aglow with light and play and promise or a on dim morning stinging with an unforgiving chill, if you wait for the rhythm to find you it always will.





With gratitude,

Jo
         



Friday, May 25, 2018

Fort Mackinac {midwest wandering}




Last summer I had the chance to spend three full days on Mackinac Island, Michigan.  It was my first visit to this lovely place and I have to admit I found it, well, magical.   There are many places to fall in love with on this 3.7 square mile island, but as is typical for me, I was most smitten with the Islands largest historic site, Fort Mackinac. 

When I was a young child my mother would fill long summer days by taking us on tours of our local surroundings, stopping at any place that seemed even remotely interesting: small museums, a nearby mining town turned visitor destination and of course parks and lakes and sometimes the playground by the river where we could also feed the ducks.  We thrived on day trips and I learned almost by default that connection to place was gained through experiencing nature and history.  I suppose I had a predisposition to the nerdy love of looking at old farm implements though the glass walls of a display case and asking volunteer docents where the bathroom was located in a nineteenth century farm house.  But even if that is true, my mother’s resourcefulness and eagerness to get out and see something instilled in me a lifelong wanderlust that continues only to be satisfied by a breath of fresh air and a good dose of the past.  In early college when my sister and I began making our own summer road trips from our home in Southern Oregon to visit aunts, uncles and cousins in Southern California, I easily fell into the role of instigator and tour guide, always eager to stop at some old place along the way.  My sister, not nearly as keen as I, humored me most of the time, biting her tongue when we stopped at coastal missions and took detours down defunct main street strips.   

Today I am the mom who takes the detour and makes sure we stop at the local museum or walk through the natural history exhibit in a visitor center.  I want my children to grow up with a curiosity about where they are, what a place was before they witnessed it and why that matters.  The facts are the basic ones these days, age appropriate for three kids under ten. But as I have learned it is not necessarily the details of a place that stay with us, but the experience of it.  So that is why with only three days to experience everything Mackinac has to offer I made sure we spent one of those afternoons wandering the fort’s historic grounds; that, and because I will always be a history nerd at heart.     

Fort Macinac is a late eighteenth century military post that in 1875 became part of the Nation’s second national park, Mackinac Island National Park, commissioned just three years after Yellowstone.  It was built by the French in the late eighteenth century during the height of the great lakes fur trading era and was held by the British during the Revolutionary War, not surrendered to the U.S. until nearly twenty years after the new nation was officially formed.  Over the next century the fort made its transition from military stronghold to tourist attraction.  In 1895 the twenty year old national park was decommissioned at the request of Michigan’s then governor and became Mackinac State Park, Michigan’s first state park. 

The fort’s collection of historic buildings, which includes the oldest standing building in the state of Michigan have been restored to the appearance of the grounds during their final years of military occupation.  They represent a decisive era in early American history and tell the story of those on both sides of the walls.  The grounds offer interpretive and interactive experiences for visitors of any age.  On a visit to the island it should not be missed.   







Below is a photo tour from our afternoon visit in late July of last year.  Follow along using a map of the grounds, here

Thanks for joining me!





Fort Mackinac from Marquette Park 





Entrance to the front gates of the park, known as the south sally port, from Marquette park overlooking Lake Michigan




Ramp leading from Marquette park to the south sally port




18. South Sally Port,
One of the fort's original features constructed more than 225 years ago







7. Soldiers barracks, 1859





Wooden boardwalks connect the past and the buildings that tell its story.




20. East blockhouse,1798
A fortified lookout post with a view of Lake Michigan and the Straights of Mackinac, a strategic point of defense




12. The west blockhouse, 1798 
and two of my little explorers 




View looking east toward the straights of Mackinac the fort's primary defense point, today it overlooks a thriving tourist community




View looking north east across Marquette park onto Lake Michigan 





22. Parade grounds, 
open space at the center of the grounds as it looked in the 1890s




Daily reenactments demonstrate life and training at the fort 





14. Officers Stone Quarters, 1780
Interactive exhibits for children are presented within the buildings historic walls, making history tangible for young visitors.  The Kids Quarters are housed in the old Officers Stone Quarters, the oldest standing building in the state of Michigan.





14. Officers Stone Quarters, 1780
The Officers Stone Quarters, constructed in 1780, is the oldest standing building in the state of Michigan, a photograph above a fireplace illustrates the daily scene in the late 1880s.  For over one hundred years officers and their families occupied this building as their domestic quarters.






14. Officers Stone Quarters, 1780
Living room in the Officers Stone Quarters as it would have looked in the 1880s





9. Post School House, 1879
Children of those stationed at the fort were provided an education within its walls




5. North sally port, 1875
Visiting a historic site can leave us with the impression that a place always functioned as a finished whole, static in time, designed to serve a specific function.  But this is rarely an accurate reflection of sites that more often than not were transformed over time to meet changing needs.  Fort Mackinac is no exception. 





3. Quartermasters Storehouse, 1860
The exhibits in the old store house likely represent a scene much lovelier than what one would have encountered in the hustle and bustle of a nineteenth century fort commissary, but I found this modest presentation to be so engaging, I was left considering the space long after I left it.





3. Quartermasters Storehouse, 1860





Looking across the Parade grounds toward the officers quarters, with Lake Michigan and the Straights beyond




17. Guard House, 1828
Exhibits in this modest building tell the story of court proceedings and jailings at the fort




17. Guard House, 1828
Name and date carved in a wooden windowsill by a prisoner in 1889







Wherever it is you wander, remember to take a few steps into the past.




With gratitude,
Joanna